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When you head into a gym for the first time, it can be overwhelming. There are so many options, and so many experts insisting that you must (or must not) do certain things. Elsewise, your progress is doomed, they say. With that in mind, here is a starter list of bodybuilding frequently asked questions that will provide useful information and help get you in the right mindset.
This might be the holy grail of bodybuilding questions. If you aren’t getting enough protein, you aren’t building as much muscle as possible. A review of the literature generally shows that scientists recommend that a bodybuilder consume a minimum of one gram of protein per day, for every pound of bodyweight. Therefore, if you weighed 200 pounds, you would consume 200 grams of protein every day. However, there is also data suggest that you can increase the protein requirements to reflect the amount of lean mass that is your goal bodyweight. In that case, if you weighed 200 pounds but wanted to gain 20 pounds of muscle, you could experiment with eating 220 grams of protein per day. The important thing is that you track your intake. If you are satisfied with your bodybuilding results, you’re probably getting enough protein.
The name of the bar you see on a bench press is called a barbell, or an Olympic barbell. Generally, a bar that is used for bench pressing will weigh 45 pounds. One of the easiest ways to know if you’re using an Olympic barbell or a lighter weight one is the diameter of the ends of the bar. Older weight plates have holes in them that are about an inch in diameter, and are used with plates with comparable holes. These are seldom seen in most gyms, so 45 pounds is a safe assumption when you see a barbell.
Back pain and back injuries are two of the most insidious plagues of the weight room. One of the worst versions is a slipped disk. The spine is made up of small sections of bone called vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated by small disks that act as cushions. The inside of the disks are made of a jelly-like substance, while the outer ring of the disks is tough and supportive. A slipped disk occurs when the soft interior pushes through the rough exterior of the disk.
Unfortunately, many types of back injuries feel similar. If you have a slipped disk, you might feel numbness in that area of the spine, or tingling. The tingling can also radiate out into the arms and hands, depending on where the nerve enervations are mapped out. If you think you have a slipped disk, get verification from a doctor.
It has been said that random workouts produce random results. Not many bodybuilders want random results. They go into the gym with a vision of what they want to look like one day, and they chase it. The appropriate question here should be, “When should I stop doing a routine?” The answer is: when it stops working and is no longer giving you the results you want.
The poorly kept secret is that everything works…for a while. Once you find a routine that is delivering results, be patient and work it. When you hit the point of stagnation or diminishing gains, it is time to try something else. Patience is the key. As long as you are making progress, resist the urge to jump from program to program. Give whatever you’re trying a real chance to work.
When you are highly committed and love hitting the gym, it can feel like more workouts simply must equal more progress. Is it true? The answer is, it depends. It depends on your genetics, the style of training you prefer, your nutrition and recovery. Arnold Schwarzenegger trained twice a day, six days a week, and thrived on volume. Dorian Yates and Stan Eferding said they made their best progress while sometimes lifting as little as twice per week, particularly while building their foundations.
Beginners need to build that foundation, and can make great progress in 3-4 sessions per week, focusing on large barbell exercises, provided that nutrition and recovery are accounted for. You must always ask if you are getting the results you want. If not, lifting more frequently, or less, could be the answer. You won’t know until you experiment and give it time.
You’ll often hear that squats, or deadlifts, or bench presses are dangerous. Olympic lifting coach Dan John is fond of saying, “Squats aren’t bad for your knees. The way you’re squatting is bad for your knees.” The point is, every exercise has the potential for injury, depending on the lifter’s form, age, strength levels, technique, experience, and more.
In the beginning, focus on the exercises that will best work the muscles you want to develop. Ignore the experts who say you must squat in order to have big legs. There are lifters with massive quads who swear by the leg press machine, or even leg extensions. However, those lifters don’t insist that squats don’t work for anyone, only that they don’t work for them as well as something else. You must find out what gives you the biggest payoff. Do not avoid exercises simply because someone says they are dangerous. Learn how to perform the correctly and make progress slowly.
There are bodybuilding supplements that can definitely give you a boost and are worth considering, if you already have a solid foundation in place. There are bodybuilding ads that will convince that if you don’t take a supplement, you’ll never put on a pound.
In order to build muscle, you have to sleep enough, eat enough, and lift with enough stimulus to force your muscles to grow. If any of those areas are inadequate, a supplement is not going to pick up the slack. Supplements are something extra. Once you have good habits with recovery, nutrition, and lifting, then creatine, amino acids, pre-workout formulas, and whey protein shakes are all worth a look.
When most bodybuilders think of “doing cardio,” they picture themselves performing lengthy sessions on the treadmills and elliptical machines in the gym. However, it is important to understand that the function of cardio is to accelerate your heart rate. This is what puts you into the fat burning zone, which, if the session is intense enough, will last for hours after the workout stops.
There are many ways to get your heart rate up, though. Even resting less between sets can have a similar effect. 10 minutes of hill sprints can have a fat-burning effect superior to 20 minutes on a treadmill. Your cardiovascular health and general fitness will be better if you do some form of cardio. However, do not fixate on what you think cardio needs to look like. It is simply the act of challenging your heart and telling your body to burn fat. Find a form that you enjoy. There’s no need for endless miles on a treadmill if that’s not your thing, but it’s important to improve your cardiovascular health.
Most studies agree that if hypertrophy—building muscle—is your goal, you will have the greatest success using weights that are heavy enough so that you are only able to complete between 8-12 reps per set. This is supposed to be the sweet spot where you get enough reps to hone your technique, but the weights are still challenging enough to force muscle growth.
Sets of 3-5 reps are generally seen as being better suited to lifters training for pure strength. Sets of 12 reps and above are theoretically better suited to cardio/endurance style workouts, as discussed above, or for sculpting muscles. These are all just guidelines, however. There are lifters who swear by higher rep sets across all body parts, and others who insist that a steady diet of heavy weights pulled for triples (sets of 3 reps) have given them their best hypertrophy results. As with the other questions, your own path will be defined by how meticulously you are willing to be about tracking your progress and making adjustments as needed.
When you think of being in magazine-ready shape, there’s a good chance you’re picturing a fitness model with eye-popping abs. If you don’t think you have abs, there’s good news: you do. However, if they’re covered by fatty tissue, no amount of crunches, twists, or planks are going to reveal them. Bodybuilders need to treat their nutrition as if it’s a job. If you want to see your abs, you’re going to have to keep a food diary and know how many calories you need to consume to maintain your current appearance. Then, when you know that, you reduce calories slowly to learn the amount that will begin to reveal your abs.
There is no downside to having a strong core, so don’t think that you should avoid training your abdominal muscles until you can see them. You can build them while shedding fat to show them off. A steady diet of front squats, planks, crunches, ab rollouts, and other staples will be the perfect complement to your literal fat loss diet.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of bodybuilding frequently asked questions, but it should be enough to get you thinking about your own progress and how to improve it. The key is to focus on you. Templates work for a while, but there will come a time when you must take responsibility for your own body and your own results. It all comes down to how many questions you’re willing to ask yourself, and whether you will follow the answers where they lead.